Published by Merit Press on January 18th 2016
Pages: 288 •Goodreads
Family can be complicated. Especially when skeletons from the past pop up unexpectedly. For American Evie Gray, finding out her deceased mother had a secret identity, and not one of the caped crusader variety, was quite the surprise. Evie’s mom had a secret life before she was even born, one that involved tiaras.
In this modern day fairytale, Evie is on a path to figure out who her mom really was, while discovering for herself what the future will hold. Charged with her late mother’s letters, Evie embarks on a quest into her past. The first item on the list is to attend Oxford, her mom’s alma mater. There, Evie stumbles upon a real life prince charming, Edmund Stuart the second Prince of England, who is all too happy to be the counterpart to her damsel in distress.
Evie can’t resist her growing attraction to Edmund as they spend more time together trying to unravel the clues her mother left behind. But, when doubts arise as to whether or not Edmund could ever be with an untitled American, what really ends up unraveling is Evie’s heart. When Evie uncovers all the facts about her mom’s former life, she realizes her mom’s past can open doors she never dreamed possible, doors that can help her be with Edmund. But, with everything now unveiled, Evie starts to crack under the pressure of new family responsibilities and the realization that her perfect prince may want her for all the wrong reasons.
One of the most coveted items I received in my Christmas Haul, I was so incredibly excited to get my hands on The Heir and the Spare as I am a total sucker for anything featuring the modern-day-royalty story line. Two of my favorite reads from 2015 were The Royal We and Royal Wedding, so I was sure this was going to be another book that I could indulge in. In fact, it’s the first book from my Christmas Haul that I dove into. However, I wound up being extremely disappointed by the quality of the writing, predictable plot elements, and lack of originality in The Heir and the Spare.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably familiar with William and Kate’s highly publicized courtship throughout the mid-2000s that ultimately led to their wedding in April of 2011. Their modern day triumph over age old traditions (William being able to keep his status as heir to the throne while marrying a commoner) has no doubt spurred many fan fictions, novel ideas, and screenplays. I have no problem with books borrowing this premise, as it’s fun and has a bit of a wish fulfillment element (who hasn’t at least occasionally daydreamed that they would be the sassy American girl to win the heart of a foreign prince?) The Heir and the Spare plays off of that trope but uses the younger brother (a nod to Prince Harry, I’m assuming) and what would happen if he fell in love with an American.
So while I have no problem with the premise (it’s all in good fun!) the execution really left a lot to be desired. First off, the tagline for the book really ruins a major plot element: “She’s secretly royal, he’s secretly loyal”. A) We now know that Evie is conveniently going to turn out to be related to royalty and B) What does “He’s secretly loyal” really even mean? That he secretly likes her? It’s a romance, shouldn’t that be obvious? Awkward catchphrase aside, the characters and chemistry in this book were very unconvincing. Evie, Edmund, and all of their friends are supposed to attend Oxford, one of the most prestigious and famous universities in the world, and be in their early 20s. Yet most of the time, the characters acted like high schoolers (at best) with several major conflicts stemming from the classic ‘lack of communication’ plot device, one dimensional antagonists (Jax), petty name calling (Evie refers to one character as MissBitchyBoobsInYourFace) and a rather offensive use of attemped sexual assault as a plot device. There was also the cliché use of a titled, beautiful British love interest for Edmund who was a horrible person with no conscience who his family wanted him to be with, and was thus Evie’s arch nemesis. I am so tired of reading about girl on girl hate in YA novels, especially when it’s with an older cast of characters, who should quite frankly be more mature. I’m not saying that mean girls don’t exist (they always have and always will) but no one is a cardboard cut out villain in real life, and it would’ve been nice to see the mean girl character in this novel have a bit more complexity.
There was one unique plot element to the novel, which is Evie’s mom’s letters. Evie’s mother died when she was young, and left a series of letters for Evie to open on her birthdays and when she enrolled at Oxford to allow her to know her mother, and her mother’s “mysterious” British familial history. This was one of the aspects that kept me reading (though what the letters revealed was pretty obvious) and I wish it had been the focus of the novel rather than than the romance between Edmund and Evie. View Spoiler »Although once Evie finds out the “secret” that she’s related her grandmother who is a Dutchess the plotline sags in originality again, as her mean old grandmother makes her suffer through “Duchess lessons” which really borrows heavily on the theme of The Princess Diaries series if you ask me. « Hide Spoiler
Perhaps I could have overlooked the predictable plot elements and subpar characters had the writing been impressive, but alas, that was not the case. There were many small things about the writing that irked me, from the somewhat cheesy chapter titles (I didn’t even know titling chapters was still a thing) to the constant use of italicized thought in Evie’s narrative, despite it already being in first person (I was hard pressed to find a single page that didn’t have Evie’s thoughts in italics at some point, usually for a redundant reason as it had already been expressed through said first person narration).
Overall: The Heir and the Spare squeaked by with 2.5 stars because of my love for all things royal, despite containing immature characters and predictable plot elements. It had shades of intrigue and originality, but ultimately felt like a pale imitation of The Royal We combined with The Princess Diaries. Most importantly, perhaps, is my suspension of disbelief was never complete as I found the likelihood of Evie and Edmund’s relationship completely unconvincing. A promising premise, but a real let down in execution.